A University of Michigan social psychologist who has studied voter behavior for decades has uncovered what it is in a voter’s psyche that draws them to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.
The revelations of David Dunning’s research also explains much about how we as a species seem to live comfortably with what would appear to be incompatible contradictions.
From Politico …
Many commentators have argued that Donald Trump’s dominance in the GOP presidential race can be largely explained by ignorance; his candidacy, after all, is most popular among Republican voters without college degrees. Their expertise about current affairs is too fractured and full of holes to spot that only 9 percent of Trump’s statements are “true” or “mostly” true, according to PolitiFact, whereas 57 percent are “false” or “mostly false”—the remainder being “pants on fire” untruths. Trump himself has memorably declared: “I love the poorly educated.”
But as a psychologist who has studied human behavior—including voter behavior—for decades, I think there is something deeper going on. The problem isn’t that voters are too uninformed. It is that they don’t know just how uninformed they are.
Psychological research suggests that people, in general, suffer from what has become known as the Dunning-Kruger Effect. They have little insight about the cracks and holes in their expertise. In studies in my research lab, people with severe gaps in knowledge and expertise typically fail to recognize how little they know and how badly they perform. To sum it up, the knowledge and intelligence that are required to be good at a task are often the same qualities needed to recognize that one is not good at that task—and if one lacks such knowledge and intelligence, one remains ignorant that one is not good at that task. This includes political judgment.
We have found this pattern in logical reasoning, grammar, emotional intelligence, financial literacy, numeracy, firearm care and safety, debate skill, and college coursework. Others have found a similar lack of insight among poor chess players, unskilled medical lab technicians, medical students unsuccessfully completing an obstetrics/gynecology rotation, and people failing a test on performing CPR.
This syndrome may well be the key to the Trump voter—and perhaps even to the man himself. Trump has served up numerous illustrative examples of the effect as he continues his confident audition to be leader of the free world even as he seems to lack crucial information about the job. In a December debate he appeared ignorant of what the nuclear triad is. Elsewhere, he has mused that Japan and South Korea should develop their own nuclear weapons—casually reversing decades of U.S. foreign policy.
Many commentators have pointed to these confident missteps as products of Trump’s alleged narcissism and egotism. My take would be that it’s the other way around. Not seeing the mistakes for what they are allows any potential narcissism and egotism to expand unchecked.
In voters, lack of expertise would be lamentable but perhaps not so worrisome if people had some sense of how imperfect their civic knowledge is. If they did, they could repair it. But the Dunning-Kruger Effect suggests something different. It suggests that some voters, especially those facing significant distress in their life, might like some of what they hear from Trump, but they do not know enough to hold him accountable for the serious gaffes he makes. They fail to recognize those gaffes as missteps.
Here is more evidence. In a telling series of experiments, Paul Fernbach and colleagues asked political partisans to rate their understanding of various social policies, such as imposing sanctions on Iran, instituting a flat tax, or establishing a single-payer health system.
Survey takers expressed a good deal of confidence about their expertise. Or rather, they did until researchers put that understanding to the test by asking them to describe in detail the mechanics of two of the policies under question. This challenge led survey takers to realize that their understanding was mostly an illusion. It also led them to moderate their stances about those policies and to donate less money, earned in the experiment, to like-minded political advocacy groups.
Again, the key to the Dunning-Kruger Effect is not that unknowledgeable voters are uninformed; it is that they are often misinformed—their heads filled with false data, facts and theories that can lead to misguided conclusions held with tenacious confidence and extreme partisanship, perhaps some that make them nod in agreement with Trump at his rallies.
Trump himself also exemplifies this exact pattern, showing how the Dunning-Kruger Effect can lead to what seems an indomitable sense of certainty. All it takes is not knowing the point at which the proper application of a sensible idea turns into malpractice.
See full story at Politico
Despite the statements of the relatively uninformed or mis-informed comprising a high percentage of Trump supporters, there are a large number of highly informed, smart and successful voters who have chosen to support Trump. Dunning doesn’t address how his Dunning-Kruger Effect might explain that behavior.